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Port Everglades faces difficulties in targeting Mexico, Asia growth

FOLLOWING last year's decrease in container volume due to weakness in its core markets, the Caribbean and Central America, Port Everglades is looking to capitalise on the burgeoning Mexican and Asian trade, but political headwinds and fierce competition challenge that gambit.

Florida's third-busiest port for laden volume faces stiff competition to attract Mexican and Asian trade, which totals just 2 per cent of its total volume, from other East Coast competitors. It's also pursuing growth in two trades that President Trump may soon target with protectionist policies.

Its nearest rival Miami, for example, boasts eight weekly trans-Pacific services to Everglades' one and seven Mexican services to Everglades' three. Miami can also handle ships with capacities of 14,000 EU able to traverse the expanded Panama Canal, whereas the largest ship Everglades can handle is 9,000 TEU. Everglades doesn't expect to complete its US$337 million deepening project to handle the larger ships for another five years.

In the meantime, Everglades is banking on infrastructure investments, past and future, in its harbour and rail connections to South Florida and Southeast markets via Florida East Coast Railway to tilt the balance. But that gamble comes amid ongoing talks of rebooting the US trade deal with Mexico and tit-for-tat trade actions against China that could damage Everglades' odds, IHS Media reported.

"We're watching things very anxiously," Jim Pyburn, Everglades' director of business development said. "We'll see how much of it is rhetoric right now, how much of it is political grandstanding. We'll see."

For the full 2016 calendar year, Everglades' total traffic dipped 0.27 per cent year over year to 734,750 loaded TEU. Growth at its rivals Miami and Jacksonville outpaced that of Everglades, according to PIERS, with Miami handling 777,728 TEU and Jacksonville, 764,823 TEU.

Most of Everglades' trade was with Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, in that order. Port officials estimate that 3 out of 4 containers at Everglades move on the north-south trade lane.

"We're the leading port in Florida for exports to Latin America," said Mr Pyburn. "Fifteen per cent of all US exports going to Latin American move over Port Everglades."

Roughly 67.3 percent of the port's trade is dedicated to Central American and Caribbean cargo, split nearly evenly between the two.

Everglades' business with Mexico, by comparison, is small but growing rapidly. Everglades' business makes up roughly 13 per cent of all the East Coast's trade with Mexico. Although trade with Mexico made up roughly 1.5 per cent of the port's total business in 2016, imports increased 38.3 per cent year over year in 2016, and exports rose 6.9 per cent. It's also been the port's fastest-growing market for the past five years, with imports from Mexico up more than 300 per cent between 2011 and 2016, and exports up roughly 40 per cent.
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